Bro Country – Part Deux
Luke Bryan’s “Kill the Lights” tour, his third performance in Bangor, Maine, caught Maine Music News on the tail end of a big weekend that included Daryl Hall & John Oates, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Hope Estey’s 50th birthday bash so we were dragging a bit when we showed up at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion Sunday evening. Taking a cue from nearly every country song since the red Solo cup was invented, this Presque Isle blond indulged in a glass of the Geaghan Brother’s brew of the same name and got to work on my quest to better understand the allure of Bro Country. When in Rome, so to speak.
Actually, by the looks, this was a tame evening for most of the attendees at the show, including myself. And that is saying something considering 14,000 or so country fans were in the house for one of the biggest Bro Country acts out of Nashville. Maybe everyone was washed out from the recent heat and humidity or just mindful that Monday morning was coming soon. And speaking of being washed out – I’ve been keeping count and this is the third country show featuring a cloud burst followed by a beautiful double rainbow to the east of the venue. Meteorology aside, this run on rainbows is getting sort of spooky.
Dustin Lynch took the stage on the heels of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long,” piped in over the speakers, always a good sign that an artist is going to kick some serious ass. Speaking of which, the young man’s pants were a sight to see. Holy Spandex, Bat Man. Moving on… Lynch came out with squealing rock guitars and a heavy beat for “To the Sky” before slowing down a bit for the next few tunes. Most of his set had a nice, rolling grumble spiked with electric guitar riffs, rougher and rowdier it seems than his studio work which seems to rely on the three Bro Country melodies Nashville’s writers have been using for the last few years. I know that sounded critical, and it was, but you all know it is an accurate statement. However – I will add that I understand why an artist, as well as writers, would work within the confines of a tried and true formula as the shelf life for a country singer is limited so you got to make it work while your ass still fits in those jeans. Seriously though, Lynch put on a great set. He was fun to watch interacting with the crowd, his voice is smooth with a nice range, and the band was terrific. Lynch wrapped up his performance with “Mind Reader” and “Hell of a Night.” The fans loved him.
The sun came out and that rainbow appeared, excuse me – double rainbow, just in time for Little Big Town. This was their second performance on the Waterfront, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I admit that I didn’t get on their bandwagon the first time. Big surprise, right? However, several friends assured me that I would enjoy their harmonies if I would just listen and stop being such a snot. So I did. And they were right.
Starting off with “Turn the Lights On,” the crowd went crazy for that LBT swampy, country beat. Following up with “Little White Church,” they caught my attention with the lyric: ‘I ain’t gonna have your baby until you take me down to the little white church.” I like a snappy, sassy lyric. Skipping ahead, as I listened to the lyrics in their set, I found that many of the songs were empowering rather than about drinking beer on a tailgate. Well, okay, there were a lot of references to tailgate-ish topics, but I was very happy to hear strong messages in the LBT lineup.
Little Big Town’s set was fun, and as promised, their harmonies were even tighter than Dustin Lynch’s jeans. Their covers of Dolly’s “Jolene” and Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” were impressive, even reaching highlight status for the night as far as I’m concerned. Video work was interesting, even edgy on “Tornado.” Nicely done. Yes, Little Big Town put on a top notch performance. I stand corrected. Wrapping up with “Boondocks,” they made me wonder if everything really does “start where the pavement ends.”
Luke Bryan, the birthday boy of the night, was next, of course, and appropriately kicked off his show with “Rain is a Good Thing.” This song does make me laugh – in a good way – I will admit. Then he said, “Guess who’s getting frisky? Welcome to my birthday party, Bangor, Maine!” (He even pronounced it correctly. I guess he watched the video on how to say Bangor. Wink) And the show was off and running. He rolled through hit after hit after hit, including “Crash My Party” and “Drunk on You,” and the crowd went nuts.
So what makes people flock in droves to see him? Putting all of my previous “Luke Bryan’s skinny jeans” jokes aside, his song catalog is catchy, the stage show is strong, and he is very charming, seeming genuinely sweet. On top of that, he does make many a fan swoon – one fan even called him her “sexy cowboy.” I think Jasmine and Dennis MacIntosh hit it on the head when they shared with me the element that clinches it for them – Luke Bryan and his band members appear to be having the time of their lives and they share the fun with everyone in the crowd. The audience feels welcomed and appreciated. Isn’t that what we all want when we see a show? To be included, to be part of the experience? I’ve seen a lot of shows, and it is a feat to make thousands of fans feel loved night after night. The connection between the fans and the stage is palpable. Nice job, Luke Bryan and the band!
For his 40th birthday, crew members and spouses came out on stage to celebrate with a Luke Bryan Chippendale dancer-inspired cake, Patron, champagne showers, and cases of beer shared with the crowd. And smoke cannons, too. That’s something fans at the Waterfront will be talking about for years to come! And it is pretty cool. What a show!
I’ll wrap up now, but before I do … my quest in figuring out this Bro Country phenomenon has actually been quite entertaining as well as enlightening so far. I have a country show or two left to go this summer, shows that will be more challenging to my musical tastes than those I’ve written about so far, which is saying something, but I think I am up for the task. Stay tuned.
Special thanks to a few special people who humored and helped me with this review: Dawn England, Tracy Kinney, and of course, Dennis and Jasmine MacIntosh.